The Oscars are known for stirring up controversy, alongside memorable fashion moments, every year. This year’s show had plenty of both, but one of the moments that stood out the most was Frances McDormand’s acceptance speech that ended with the words: inclusion rider.
I had to Google the term because I’d never heard of it. But as soon as I read the definition I knew it was something that could be helpful and important for our creative community. To quote NPR, an inclusion rider is, “a stipulation that actors and actresses can ask (or demand) to have inserted into their contracts, which would require a certain level of diversity among a film’s cast and crew.”
From the moment those words were broadcast on live television, I watched social media explode with a range of responses and I found myself having dozens of conversations (both public and private) on social media with people in our community who wondered why this wasn’t being discussed more in the world of design.
You don’t have to look far (heck, just look back at the majority of the first 10 years of Design*Sponge) to know that there are many, many people who are omitted from coverage, celebration, and support in the world of design. Whether they’re omitted because of their race, gender/gender presentation, sexuality, religion, disability, or a range of other factors, there are many people in our community who have not only been left out of the story, they’ve been actively discriminated against and ignored at just about every level of participation. They’ve been left out of funding, press, design school admissions, scholarships, trade shows, conferences, and publishing contracts.
These omissions aren’t just upsetting, frustrating, and detrimental to the people experiencing them, they hurt our community as a whole. Because our community is stronger, better, and more inspiring when it represents and includes ALL of the people in it.
So how do we, as members of the creative community or passionate supporters of it, use our voices and choices to support the inclusion of all members of our community?
There are many ways to speak up, but first, I’ve found one of the most powerful ways to start is to just listen. Listen to people who have different experiences, identities, and stories than you. They are the ones who can best express their stories, needs, and concerns. Follow people on social media, listen to podcasts, books, magazines, and blogs that are about or by people with different backgrounds and identities than you. This listening never ends, and it’s an important reminder to always ground yourself in listening first and talking/acting second.
Okay, back to supporting inclusion. How do those of us in the design community (or any community, really), speak up when we’re invited to be a part of something that isn’t supporting as many members of our community as it could? It may not always be comfortable to speak up, but it’s important. As Blake Von D said in an interview with Fashionista.com, “It’s not enough to get through the door if you close it behind you.”
Here’s the email I usually write when I have the chance to speak up about an opportunity that’s come my way:
I usually get one of these three responses:
- No response (crickets…)
- Someone who will send me a list of names (that are not inclusive), but who is not interested in talking about it any further.
- Someone who is open to expanding the inclusiveness of the event but needs assistance with that*.
Only one of these responses (the last one*) is something that can turn into a conversation, so I always try to hop on a call or email to talk about the event, their goals, their budget, and how I could be of help in finding someone from a different background or identity to take my spot or add to the event. I usually spend a few minutes thinking of any people I know personally who would be a great fit and then send those names and contacts to them directly.
And then I always end with links to some of the many websites that exist to highlight and connect people with underrepresented artists/designers/writers, like People of Craft, Women Who Draw, Writers of Color, and the Black Interior Designers Network. Sites like these are just one of the many ways people organizing events or opportunities can easily access a database of talented people who are just one click away.
Inclusion and equity are about making more room at the table, and it can be helpful if those of us who have already had those seats offered to us can help pass the chance to someone else who hasn’t had that same opportunity. Ultimately the goal is to get people to realize that, in most cases, there is always more room at the table. And expanding all of our platforms and our digital spaces to make more people feel seen, heard and welcomed is an important part of our community’s growth.
Here are just a few more ways all of us in the creative community can continue to evolve and support inclusion and a broader range of viewpoints and experiences in our world:
- Attend and support conferences and events that celebrate underrepresented voices.
- Download and buy podcasts, books, and magazines that celebrate underrepresented voices.
- Follow and listen to the feeds, blogs and channels of people from different life experiences and identities than yours. Whether that’s someone from a different part of your country, a different financial background, a different race, religion, gender, sexuality, or someone who lives with a disability or chronic illness.
- Listen to their stories, support their projects and show up whenever you can.
It makes a difference and it makes our community stronger as a whole. If you’ve had experiences where you spoke up or used your platform or saw someone that did and it inspired you, I’d love to hear your stories. I’d also love to hear the stories of anyone who feels underrepresented or underreported. If you’re comfortable sharing those stories, we would love to hear them here. (There is no pressure, no one’s stories are owed to any community.) Thank you to everyone for being a part of this conversation and thank you to everyone reading here who has been patient and understanding as my and our understanding of inclusivity as evolved over the years. I know it has not been easy as times and I thank you for your patience. xo, Grace